Published: Mr Mu Narrative

I have a small piece of nonetheless rather pleasing news. A new literary journal called Cagibi, based in New York City, recently published an essay of sorts, written by me. It’s about Mr Mu, our departed feline companion, about his life and death and what happened next. It was refreshing to be allowed the space to write something of this length for publication and this would be a good place to thank the editors for their enthusiasm and support. Here’s a link:

Published in: on April 23, 2018 at 7:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Mr Mu 1995-2017

mu-christmas-2016The time has come for me to write of Mr Mu, our venerable, princely feline who died last Monday after a long and increasingly complicated illness.

Mr Arthur Mu was deemed a suitable name for such a resplendent cat and it is difficult to believe that he was briefly known as Pepe. The boyfriend who suggested this didn’t last long and Mr Mu was subsequently known by many names, as seemed to befit a natural aristocrat, for he acquired names like titles.

He lived in several parts of Australia – in the suburbs, in the country, in Sydney, Melbourne, the Blue Mountains, the Mid North Coast and in Sydney again. He was better travelled and had more friends than me.

Before I met him, and he had already lived a long time by then, the image in my mind of what a cat should look like exactly resembled Mu – I just didn’t know it, because I hadn’t met him yet. He was a tabby with a white shirt, white gloves and gaiters on his hands and feet, and he loved to be cuddled after Laetitia had rather forcefully encouraged him to enjoy that sort of contact during his kittenhood. This meant he also knew how to use furniture as a human might, could open cupboards and turn doorknobs, and would be found in a bed with the covers over his body and his head on a pillow or standing on a chair, arms on the table, sharing peas and corn with his human mummy. His body seemed to naturally fit into the bumps and hollows of a human lap and to lie in that position, on you, being stroked, was one of his favourite things.

One of the things I miss now is the feel of his body. Of the way his ribs and legs felt, the texture of his coat, the way he smelled. I can feel it all now in my muscle memory but I so want to hold him again.

For a little while after we met, he treated me poorly – with disdain, of course, as an inferior, but he played mind games with me for some time, in order to test me. While threatening to steal food from my plate, knock valuable items over, eat food he shouldn’t eat, forage in a bin which had seemed out of his reach, and lastly to escape, he was gauging something about my character. Once he did escape, in the country, when I was looking after him for the day, and the way he kept appearing just a little too far way to easily grab him, on the other side of a paddock, was clear evidence of his mischievous and evil temperament. He was a cat, after all.

But I passed his tests, somehow, and we became mates. He had decided that I could be trusted with his Laetitia. And there were things which only the two of us would do. When he knocked on the door, I would answer it. We would spend time together outside the house after I came home from work (“man time”) and later spend time together inside, after he had retired and we decided he would be an inside cat (“lap time”). If you owed him some kind of affection and he couldn’t see a good reason for the delay, he would become quite impatient. It was one of his most endearing qualities: criticising you for not giving him a cuddle quickly enough.

And if he was hungry he would let you know that too. In the last months of his life he became a keen coffee drinker, having been given frothy and warm milk made by Laetitia from the coffee machine, and when she added some actual coffee he liked that too. Mu would demand his coffee and drink it messily with his front paws on the coffee table.

Our dogs didn’t appeal to him, as you can probably imagine, but his squabbles with the smaller dog were entertaining when he decided she needed the occasional lesson in manners. The dog would become cornered somehow – he knew how to do that very well – and might receive a sort of slap with a cat paw, using the motion of a boxer, as a warning, to show her what he could do, if he had been serious. But he wasn’t serious.

He was serious about the people he knew and there were so many of them. Neighbours unknown to Laetitia thought he was their cat when he visited daily. We knew of some who fed him better food than we fed him, guaranteeing repeat visits, when he was gregarious enough that the possibility of insinuating himself in someone’s life would have been enough to keep going back. He would stretch and sun himself and meow on the street and allow strangers to pat him. Sometimes he would snub people, just because he could, because cats sometimes do that sort of thing, but he had time for everyone. And that was the thing about him: I knew him half of his life and it seems like I was with him through so much more than that. There was enough of Mr Mu to go round. All his friends were special to him and all had their own relationship with him and he made them all feel honoured by his presence. Our neighbour used to look forward to seeing him, when he would turn up each morning to sun himself on their verandah and occasionally poo in their vegetable garden, and the neighbour was genuinely sad when we told him that Mu would be an inside cat from then on.

He was sick and old for a very long time and this meant a lot of attention had to be given him. He was indulged – fed whenever he was hungry, allowed to do almost anything he liked – and he indulged us back. The intensity of our relationship with him over the last three years or so goes some way to explaining the utter desolation which Laetitia and I have felt since January 2. Most pet owners think their animal is beautiful and intelligent and charming, but this cat was all of those three things and so many more. His personality was too big for a mere pet, and now it is hard to fathom that he is gone. It simply doesn’t make sense. But gone he is and the world seems to turn more slowly as a result. Our souls are bruised and our bodies weak with the strain of grief.

We will move on, somehow, in time: learn to cope, to fake it at first, and then to properly collect our emotions. But we will never forget our little friend. Before Mr Mu I thought I didn’t like cats. His example showed me I was wrong, and how wrong I was. He wasn’t just a cat though. He was far more than that and words are insufficient to do him justice.

Published in: on January 9, 2017 at 7:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Again And Again

“It’s déjà vu all over again” – Yogi Berra

I was up a ladder, scraping and cutting with a knife and applying strong poison to the gashes I had created in the thick and thriving vine which has set about colonising our house. The theory is that exposing the lower layers of branch and tendril to the poison means it will more effectively soak in, and when the agent is applied with a paint brush this also means that the process is a more targeted method than merely spraying noxious liquid in the general area of the problem. This way you only kill what you are trying to kill – if it works.

It was a hot day, and I was a bit flustered, up the ladder I found myself inside a network of small and woody and spiky branches and it was difficult to get at the really thick parts of the vine, the parts with all the little branches running of them, and I was still forced to lean and strain, and I couldn’t quite see properly as my hair was in my eyes, and the poison was running down my hand, as it kept splashing out of the container when I dipped in the small brush, and down below Letitia was telling me to calm down, to stop it, to stop it and calm down, as people up ladders who haven’t stopped it and calmed down tend to fall off and die. And it was hot.

I was being unnecessary, there’s no doubt about that. Laetitia was right, as she usually is, but there was no problem. I was just having a not particularly fun time and being a bit grumpy and sweary and irritable. And it felt like I had been there before. Like we had had this conversation before, if conversation is the best way to put it.

Now it had been obvious for a few days in the lead-up that this weekend would be full of chores and I knew that I would find myself up a ladder, so it is not the most remarkable thing to have anticipated the potential for a gent prone irritation to become irritable and it isn’t really too much of a stretch to then imagine a lady with a bit of bossy in her becoming a bit bossy in order to calm said gentleman down a bit (or put him in his place). Fine: maybe we don’t have evidence of anything terribly spooky going on here, but what about the little boy in the front yard?

On Saturday morning, just as Laetitia and I were finishing our cup of tea in bed, and were about to get up, the dogs started barking. I looked out the window and saw a little boy with dark hair walk down our pathway and along the front of the porch. He then stepped onto the porch, very close to the window I was looking through, and took a few steps before he retraced his steps to the end of the pathway and began reaching up at something on the railing of the verandah. I initially thought he had come in after a ball which had been hit over the fence or something. But he had come in after Mr. Mu, and from where I could see the boy appeared to be poking the cat as he sat, sunning himself on the railing. It didn’t look friendly. Laetitia opened the front door to confront him and the boy ran.

She then walked up the street in bare feet to have a word with the boy’s mother. We knew where the kid lived and we knew he had two older brothers. Anyway the little fellow was shy and upset and cried a bit as his mum told Laetitia that he loves cats, and Laetitia said he was welcome to pat our cat, and that she just wanted to know that the boy was alright (he had run away so quickly) and make sure he didn’t think he was in trouble.

All in all a little street scene at once strange and somehow comfortingly harmonious. The interview with the boy’s mum and his brothers, on their bikes, at the gate went well, from what I was told, and it felt oddly familiar to me as I had imagined the whole thing a few days before. This imagining involved Laetitia and I confronting the dad, and I think in this imagined scene I may have said something a bit silly like, “In our culture you don’t poke a cat like that … but yes, it’s perfectly fine that you give him a pat. He loves being patted”. So I didn’t imagine it exactly as it eventually happened, but why did I imagine it at all? Why would I be thinking about something like that?

And a few weeks earlier Laetitia and I were at an Asian noodle market – it’s a little event they decided to hold for a few weeks in the middle of the city – and we’d eaten rather unhappily until we cheered up over a couple of scoops of gelato (which isn’t very Asian, but that didn’t bother us). We were leaving when I thought I couldn’t see the rather famous over-sized chess game which goes on at the rear of an entrance to the nearby underground train station. And as I was about to make this observation it occurred to me that this feeling, being about to make this comment, here in the park, with the people coming and going and making the crowd noises they were making, and the light looking this way, and being here with Laetitia, well, it felt as if I had done it before. But I hadn’t. And she said something similar. But that wasn’t quite it either. The déjà vu moment – far stronger than the initial comment and reply – was the brief chat about the moment and the reply. That was what we felt we had already done before: had a chat about an almost déjà vu moment.

And you have to say that’s weird.

But it wasn’t unpleasant at all. I enjoyed it. We both did. And we finished our ice cream.

Published in: on October 23, 2012 at 7:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Stretching One’s Legs

Of a late autumn afternoon, as the light fades and the green grass greys, the best of all possible things to do is to conceal a freshly produced poo in the crunchy brown leaves raked half under the hedge. It is if you’re a cat, anyway.

Published in: on June 19, 2012 at 8:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Most Recent Crisis

It wasn’t the first time I have found myself lying on a road or in a gutter, but it was the most recent. It was the other night, in fact. And it wasn’t what you’re thinking. If what you were thinking is your correspondent imbibed too greedily from coloured liquid that comes out of a box and then got into all manner of hilarious scrapes, narrowly avoiding a short but dramatic stay in hospital. No, nothing like that. Not this time, anyway.

This time it was on a rather different project that I found myself in contact with the bitumen, watching headlights become brighter and distorted in their flooding blindness as cars approached and I rolled off the road or stood up or otherwise took evasive action. I didn’t want motorists to think I was having a medical episode or needed assistance, or anything like that.

But I did need assistance. And the only one who could render it refused to play ball.

My companion was in the storm water drain, emitting a plaintive meow occasionally as he showed himself, before going quiet and disappearing for a few agonising seconds as I wondered what the hell was going on. And then he appeared, looked up at me through the grates – grates which had caused stripey stains of dusts on my pants when I lay across them, with one arm down the hole clutching hopelessly for a handful of feline – meowing softly, pathetically, and briefly, then retreating back into the darkness and beginning the cycle again.

It was night on the street, out the front of our place street lights were on but the gloom had well and truly descended. On road level it was darker still. And in the drain visibility was zero, except at the point where Mr. Mu had entered the underground cave – if he stood at the opening I could just see his outline and his white paws and hear his helpless call to me.

I stood up, and moved towards the house, away from the road, with the intention of finding a torch or some other source of light inside. This would be useful for the rescue, I hoped. As I reached the doormat, a persistent jiggling could be heard from the direction of the road. It was the bell of Mu’s smart new collar, ringing persistently, insistently as he negotiated his way out of the drain with ease and trotted down the front path, ready to be picked up and ferried into the house in a human embrace.

He wasn’t trapped in the drain. He’s a cat.

Published in: on July 14, 2011 at 7:56 pm  Leave a Comment